Why Marx (and Bakunin) supported The Paris Commune?

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kurekmurek
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Nov 10 2014 08:28

bricolage

It is very interesting what you wrote.

My whole idea was to show that to understand why such ideologically imperfect example was supported by anarchists/communists back then. As commune was not socialist but Marx still supported it. also commune was not totally horizontal or it was not gender equal but Bakunin supported it (If we choose just two important figures to base the discussion). So my point is the anarchists/communists back then were aware of the political aspect of their enterprise (unlike some of them today, in my opinion). Of course it is everyone's own decision to believe a genuine social transformation is happening there or support there. (And I am perfectly aware this decisions are made according to what they know related to Kurdish movement or Rojava. I am just trying to get the correct info to Libcom.) However I think it is safe to compare these two examples to see some similarities and differences (and in this case I think it is obvious that similarities are not very few.) So that we decide based on an understanding of concrete reality and not an idealized past of non-political theoretical super-coherence.

Battlescarred
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Nov 10 2014 12:09
bricolage wrote:
Battlescarred wrote:
The Commune was not controlled by a single party but was an alliance of Proudhonist socialists, left Jacobins, Blanquists, and members of the First International who adhered to either the Marx or the Bakunin camp so for starters no comparison there with Rojava. Didn't notice any nationalists there.

There were definitely nationalists in the Paris Commune, for example Rossel who served as Minister of War was a military patriot who joined the Commune as a protest against the French state and the surrender to Prussia.

Also this statement is a bit misleading because the Proudhonists were actually members of the First International - if I remember correctly the majority of the First International in France at the time was Proudhonist.

As for what the Commune 'wanted' it's contradictory and you can't say it 'wanted' anything coherent. Some statements talk about just wanting city autonomy, others have it as the basis for a future left-federal France. Still it's pretty clear that they did try to engage with other bits of France but the ideas of the Commune were never going to spread into the countryside and after the defeat of Lyon/St-Etienne etc Paris was isolated. However, the key point is more that the Commune began when soldiers refused to fire on the Parisian women that covered the cannon, and then deserted the army. In May the Commune tried again to appeal to soldiers of Versailles but this time there was no fraternisation and the city was butchered.

I think the important point is how Marx called the Commune 'the political form at last discovered' under which in the future economic emancipation could be achieved. It was never going to be socialist and it was never going to abolish private property; it certainly could have gone a lot further and certain people tried to push it that way (against the wishes of Proudhonists etc) but it was always going to be limited. But I think people are right to talk about the Commune in the confines of the historical period it was located in. I don't know enough about Rojava to comment but I think it's pretty reductionist to just translate the experience of 1871 to 2014 without any analysis of what is different.

Louis Rossel was an exception, the only leading Army officer to join the Commune. As to his politics, I would describe them as republican reformist. He wanted universal suffrage for all, classes, including women.
Sorry if it seemed misleading about members of First International being involved in Commune. There were about 40 Internationalists involved in leadership of Commune, some followers of Proudhon, some of Blanqui, some of Marx,some of Bakunin

Dave B
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Nov 10 2014 18:35
kurremkarmerruk wrote:
Dave B

It is very interesting what you quote above. It appears Marx was not very into the Commune actualy. (I actually think it makes sense) However I suppose these letters are written after the commune right? I think his position regarding commune in International was very supportive (at least politically) right?

On September 6th 1870 Karl allegedly wrote a letter to Engels, thus;

Quote:
he [Serailller] is leaving London for Paris tomorrow .....to settle the affaires of the International there.....This is now even more necessary since the whole French Branch ..[of the I international in London ] escapes now to Paris, in order to do there all kinds of follies in the name of the international. They wish to bring down the provisional government, to establish a commune de Paris...

Its from a quotation in what should be a reliable book {cambrige university press}.

the whole letter was not online but only indexed last time I looked.

The author of the book summarises the letter as;

Quote:
Marx tried to prevent the outbreak of a misdirected Blanquist insurrection in Paris..........

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jura
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Nov 10 2014 18:57

The letter is legit, MECW Vol. 44, p. 64 - 65.

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jura
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Nov 10 2014 19:13

Anyway, it seems that Marx's position developed as follows:

1. initial distrust, warnings against premature insurrection. See the letter above and his address of the International from 1870 ("The French working class moves, therefore, under circumstances of extreme difficulty. Any attempt at upsetting the new Government in the present crisis, when the enemy is almost knocking at the doors of Paris, would be a desperate folly", MECW 22, p. 269).

2. after the "provocation" (the cannon incident on the Montmartre, see Letter to Kugelmann) and the start of the uprising he proclaims "a new point of departure of world-historic importance has been gained" and becomes enthusiastic. This is also (partially) reflected in the Civil War in France and in his various smaller writings at the time.

3. in the letter to Nieuwenhuis, written 10 years after the Commune, Marx returns to a more sceptical position ("a compromise with Versailles useful to the whole mass of the people -- the only thing that could be reached at the time").

It is interesting and refreshing to read something else than the critique of political economy. You can find gems like this: "Scientific insight into the inevitable disintegration of the dominant order of society continually proceeding before our eyes, and the ever-growing passion into which the masses are scourged by the old ghosts of government--while at the same time the positive development of the means of production advances with gigantic strides--all this is a sufficient guarantee that with the moment of the outbreak of a real proletarian revolution there will also be given the conditions (though these are certain not to be idyllic) of its next immediate modus operandi." Such naivete... quite unworthy of a scientist of Marx's stature.

kurekmurek
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Nov 10 2014 20:47

So if I understand correctly: Marx was apparently not very "optimistic/supportive of the commune"

At first he was thinking it was not the right time. I think this is not surprising at all. Given that his general approach was oriented towards establishment of socialism in developed capitalist countries by the political action of the industrial working class. Paris was definitely not such a place.

The second when the uprising erupt. I guess he then felt the need to support it. As International was active in it. He now praised it because of its political importance. A certain degree of political romanticism (as exampled by the above quote in Jura's comment) is inevitable part of political support and defense. Because political opportunities and possibilities do not come up all the time and one needs to reshape himself/herself a bit to be able to shape them.

Lastly he came back to critical position as Commune was politically not important anymore but became an event in history that could be reflected upon. He would now criticize all the faults of the commune from a safe distance.

Bakunin is underrepresented in this forum and I have issues with that grin

ajjohnstone
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Nov 11 2014 09:20

I thought some may find this 1905 account of a special commemoration meeting on the Commune by the SPGB of historic interest.

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1900s/1905/no-08-a...

Dave B
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Nov 11 2014 18:21

There was also this I think seminal article from Engels;

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1874/06/26.htm

And from Bakunin;

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1871/paris-comm...

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jura
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Nov 11 2014 21:24

Kurremkarmerruk, just a thought here: Marx and Engels for sure had many opinions on geopolitical relations that I find very dubious, i.e., their peddling the anti-Russian line, their support for Irish nationalism etc. Some would say that as this was in the period of capitalist ascendancy, it was OK. I don't think it was OK and the only way to justify it that I see is by saying they couldn't have known any better, because all the experience of the workers movement with "national liberation", parliamentarism, democracy, the state, or trade unions wasn't there (admittedly it's a very weak justification). So looking at contemporary events and comparing them with something Marx and Engels supported isn't really an argument (at least for me). They could've been (and I think they quite often were) wrong (just as they were wrong in their optimism – at one point, Marx thought the revolutionary day of reckoning would come sooner than he'd be able to finish Capital).

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Gepetto
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Nov 12 2014 11:59

To be honest it's hard for me to envision an autonomus struggle for FULL COMMUNISM in, to use the example I'm most familiar with, mid-19th century Poland (whichever partition) (or Russia as a whole, or China or Ottoman Empire, etc., etc.) if communism is to be taken as something other than "nice idea" brought from the top of the Mount Sinai by some prophets or reformers. I'm kinda old-fashioned in that regard.

Though I agree that Marx and Engels were overly optimistic on many things, especially democracy.

kurekmurek
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Nov 12 2014 12:14

Jura

But I mean OK, if you want to explain their optimism and willingness to support struggles that are not exactly communistic from they one by their ignorance of what we know now. I mean you definitely can. And you are right we can not support stuff just because it is similar to what older revolutionaries supported (maybe I should add this to the main post I made at the start, I am misunderstood on this issue). Totally they could be wrong just as each of us. But I have another explanation: The old revolutionaries were political, they were aware that revolutions will occur not in ideological vacuums but in real political contexts and will be made by real people (with ethnicities and genders etc.). Of course we have every right to be skeptical about nationalism or authoritarianism. However let's not think that we can just avoid the need of engaging with these complex issues.

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jura
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Nov 12 2014 12:18

Gepetto, was your post a response to what I wrote? Because I don't see the disagreement. Sure, in conditions of capitalist underdevelopment, a socialist revolution may be impossible. The thing is whether one should support, e.g., a more developed capitalist state in a war against a less developed (pre-)capitalist state, hoping that the outcome of the war will bring about more favorable conditions in the less developed country. My understanding of some of M&E's positions is that they believed this to be the case, at least at some points. But apart from the fact that a variation of this argument was later used by social chauvinists to prop up support for the Entente, I don't think it's this simple. Regardless of development, underdevelopment and what the future might bring, it is still predominantly proletarians (or poor peasants) dying on both sides of the conflict. Is it worth it? And we know what usually happens to working conditions and workers organizations during a war (regardless of the side)...

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jura
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Nov 12 2014 12:29

Kurremkarmerruk, yeah, well it is exactly this kind of political pragmatism that has always been used to justify the subordination of class struggle to national liberation etc.

kurekmurek
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Nov 12 2014 12:56

jura

Ok have it your way. But I think this has nothing to do with pragmatism, but it has everything to do with political nature of actual communist/anarchist praxis.

kurekmurek
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Nov 12 2014 13:44

Let's look at this one (quotes from there):
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1871/paris-comm...

Quote:
Paris destroying nationalism and erecting the religion of humanity upon its ruins

It is very interesting, Bakunin considered it as a destruction of french nationalism, more on this below

Quote:
We must realize, too, that the majority of the members of the Commune were not socialists, properly speaking.

.

Quote:
The socialists were a tiny minority – there were, at most, fourteen or fifteen of them; the rest were Jacobins.

So no illusions here

Quote:
But, let us make it clear, there are Jacobins and Jacobins. There are Jacobin lawyers and doctrinaires, like Mr. Gambetta; their positivist presumptuous, despotic, and legalistic republicanism had repudiated the old revolutionary faith, leaving nothing of Jacobinism but its cult of unity and authority, and delivered the people of France over to the Prussians, and later still to native-born reactionaries. And there are Jacobins who are frankly revolutionaries, the heroes, the last sincere representatives of the democratic faith of 1793; able to sacrifice both their well-armed unity and authority rather than submit their conscience to the insolence of the reaction. These magnanimous Jacobins led naturally by Delescluze, a great soul and a great character, desire the triumph of the Revolution above everything else; and since there is no revolution without the masses, and since the masses nowadays reveal an instinct for socialism and can only make an economic and social revolution, the Jacobins of good faith, letting themselves be impelled increasingly by the logic of the revolutionary movement, will end up becoming socialists in spite of themselves.

Quote:
However, in spite of their good faith and all their goodwill, they were merely socialists impelled by outward circumstances rather than by an inward conviction.

So according to Bakunin there were progressive nationalists. Or rather there could be nationalists who might become socialist despite themselves.

Quote:
This was a great misfortune for the Commune and for these men. They were paralyzed, and they paralyzed the Commune. Yet we cannot blame them. Men are not transformed overnight; they do not change their natures or their habits at will. They proved their sincerity by letting themselves be killed for the Commune. Who would dare ask more of them?

Bakunin also appears to be very respectful of fighters who died defending the commune regardless of their political convictions.

Quote:
In this confusing situation, it was natural that the Jacobins, the strongest section, constituting the majority of the Commune, who also possessed a highly developed political instinct, the tradition and practice of governmental organization, should have had the upper hand over the socialists. It is a matter of surprise that they did not press their advantage more than they did; that they did not give a fully Jacobin character to the Paris insurrection; that, on the contrary, they let themselves be carried along into a social revolution.

So according to Bakunin, actually the hegemony of the commune was not held at all by socialists but by nationalists. However it went in line with socialist aims, mostly due to nationalists were being caught by the logic of revolution. This was why nationalist majority (in terms of leadership) of the commune were bringing (possibly) the end of french nationalism (or rather changing it from a state centered one to a different revolutionary thing)

Quote:
I want to call the attention of the strictest theoreticians of proletarian emancipation to the fact that they are unjust to our Paris brothers, for between the most correct theories and their practical application lies an enormous distance which cannot be bridged in a few days.

I leave this to everyone's own judgement.

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Gepetto
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Nov 12 2014 14:32

@jura: though the reason behind the communist opposition to war isn't humanitarianism (even though it plays a role in rhetoric), but the notion that the bourgeoisie mobilises proletariat to fight against its own interests. In a civil war against capitalists many people will die too, including workers.

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Nov 12 2014 14:44

Thanks for the lecture, but the issue here is that Marx and Engels took sides in capitalist wars in the name of better conditions for struggle in the future.

Anarcho
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Nov 22 2014 16:24

Perhaps this article by my good self might explain things:

The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism

Marx opposed any revolts -- basically arguing workers should stay home, organise a party and vote -- while Bakunin had argued for popular uprisings since the start of the Franco-Prussian war to repel the invaders. The Parisian Internationalists were deeply influenced by Proudhon and Bakunin and, unsurprisingly, it expressed many libertarian ideas -- indeed, much of what Marx praised about it can be found -- ironically enough -- in Proudhon's 1848 election manifesto (see various blogs -- this one and this one, for example).

Given the very obvious anarchist influences, Bakunin did comment that Marx's support for the Commune was a bit rich and argued that its "general effect was so striking that the Marxists themselves, who saw their ideas upset by the uprising, found themselves compelled to take their hats off to it. They went further, and proclaimed that its programme and purpose where their own, in face of the simplest logic . . . This was a truly farcical change of costume, but they were bound to make it, for fear of being overtaken and left behind in the wave of feeling which the rising produced throughout the world.”

He is right -- the Commune's defining ideas are all straight out of Proudhon, not Marx.

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Tyrion
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Nov 22 2014 22:41

Oh great, another historical reenactment of First International factional feuds.

Fleur
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Nov 22 2014 23:14
Quote:
Oh great, another historical reenactment of First International factional feuds.

Next time, could we do it in full costume, possibly armed with super-soakers?

ajjohnstone
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Nov 23 2014 01:31

I think Anarcho is correct in stating that Marx had many reservations about the Commune and without referring to actual quotes he mentions them in private correspondence but when he got the reports as secretary of the International he then recognised how it began to develop and encompass much more and his opinion of its importance changed. He did what many do, sit on the fence until the situation clarifies itself. Marxists don't possess crystal balls but we do have the balls to change our views when proved wrong.

And even if he possessed doubts and misgivings, surely his public pronouncements on behalf of the International, demonstrates that Marx was no Machivellian manipulator of the organisation but despite his personal views that he lay to one side, he still acted as a genuine spokesperson for the International as a whole. If he was staking a claim to ownership of the Commune content, i hazard to guess that he was doing so, not in his name but in the name of the International, and he full well knew what a broad church the International was.

jojo
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Nov 23 2014 01:59

There's also the vital point that in analyzing what took place in the Commune Marx reached the significant conclusion that the working class can't just seize the bourgeois state apparatus and use it for working class purposes, but has to begin making new, working class arrangements for the organization of society which the communards did.

S. Artesian
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Nov 23 2014 21:37
jura wrote:
Thanks for the lecture, but the issue here is that Marx and Engels took sides in capitalist wars in the name of better conditions for struggle in the future.

Indeed, I happen to agree with Jura in this, and other, things. Marx and Engels took dubious positions, with the best intentions, I'm sure, but so what? Those who have followed have made fetishes of the positions, not the intentions, that's what. For examples Engels' "support" for Bismarck in the belief that the unity of Germany is indispensable for the success of "our party."